America’s NBC News chose the coup and its aftermath as one of the “stories, newsmakers, videos and images that defined 2014.” The story at NBC has several video reports attached to it. We summarize the story and add our own observations.
The story begins:
Seven months after seizing power, Thailand’s military rulers appear to be in no hurry to hand over political control. There is talk that elections won’t take place before 2016…. As they settle in for the long haul, Thailand’s gaffe-prone generals have been focused on their mission to “return happiness to the people.”
The generals, and especially The Dictator, seem happy, and so does perennial political meddler General Prem Tinsulanonda, who has cheered the coup from his palace position as head of the Privy Council. Even if the economy is in anti-democrat/coup-induced decline, the royalist Sino-Thai tycoons seem happy enough that the social order has been righted and steadied.
The story continues to the events of the past six weeks or so that have demonstrated something else – that Prem and his lot have managed to make Thailand’s succession a “problem” in the sense that what should have been a simple death of a king and his son taking over has become a major political event. The story notes that the “marital (and extra-marital) adventures of the Crown Prince might well have been dismissed as nothing new if not for one thing: timing. Maneuvering for Thailand’s royal succession has been one of the key factors driving a decade of political conflict in the southeast Asian nation — and now it appears that succession may be imminent.”
Normal constitutional monarchies do not have to deal with such meddling and stupidity because normal constitutional monarchies generally operate within defined legal boundaries. Not in Thailand, so the story observes:
… as the year draws to a close, it is palace intrigue and not Thailand’s increasingly eccentric generals who are the talk of Bangkok — albeit in hushed or oblique tones because of draconian laws that limit open discussion of the monarchy…. Among a number of senior police officers arrested in late November for alleged corruption and defaming the monarchy were the uncle and three brothers of Princess Srirasmi…. Srirasmi — who was in line to be Queen of Thailand — was stripped of her royal title and promptly divorced by her husband, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
The prince, with the son he took from the union with Srirasmi
Noting the successionist line, the report says that the prince’s mistresses have been one source of his unpopularity. The report goes on to talk of Sirindhorn as “popular” and alludes to her sexuality as well: “The prince’s younger sister — Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn — has emerged a far more popular figure among Palace elites, the army and in the country at large. Most Thais would prefer to see her take over from her father.” The report adds that:
That leaves the palace in a pickle — though none of this can be openly discussed in Thailand due to the kingdom’s draconian “lese majeste” law, which bans defamation, insults and threats to the monarchy, with penalties of up to 15 years in jail.
Meanwhile, for the prince, it seems that nothing much has changed.
He’s sent out pictures of himself with Prince Dipangkorn, the son he produced with Srirasmi, and reportedly took off to Germany following the split with her. Life seems to have gotten back to normal, despite another wife tossed out and a couple of dozen of her relatives and hangers-on jailed.
What the story doesn’t say is that there appears to have been a very large criminal network operating around the prince and, in the way of the corrupt Thai police and military, it was probably delivering payments right to the top. Of course, the current palace has managed to avoid allegations of corruption, deftly fending them off or allocating them to “evil” politicians or other sundry nasties, but never taking responsibility. Again, the lese majeste law has helped a lot, preventing any discussion of, for example, palace land grabs.
Sounding a bit like PPT, the story says: “Speculation is rife that Vajiralongkorn’s move to strip his now ex-wife (and her family) of their royal titles was an attempt to clean up shop — and perhaps part of a wider deal with the military to clear the path to the crown.”
Getting back to the coup, the story says:
One widely-assumed and unspoken reason behind the coup is believed to be the military’s desire to oversee a royal succession, and Vajiralongkorn’s rapprochement could be just what the army needs.
We think this is probably the deal to watch. As the NBC story says, “If a deal is done on their watch for the Crown Prince to take the thrown — on their terms — then the generals might feel vindicated.”
That’s true, but it also needs to be recalled that the generals are doing more than “managing” succession. They are re-establishing a political system that protects and nurtures the corrupt military-palace alliance.